Support for cannabis has rapidly become a hot topic in American politics, and politicians are coming out in favor of recreational or medical cannabis in record numbers. One of the least controversial and most popular views is that the federal government shouldn’t interfere with states that have legalized medical cannabis.
Since the 2014 Cole Memo, states with medical cannabis laws have had a tenuous protection from federal interference, as the Department of Justice has been prohibited from using funds to interfere with such programs or prosecute state-legal medical cannabis businesses. But since Donald Trump became president and Jeff Sessions became Attorney General, this protection has become increasingly threatened, and has needed to be renewed regularly as part of appropriations bills.
Recently the House Appropriations Committee approved an amendment by Rep. David Joyce (R-OH) to attach the medical cannabis protections to the Fiscal Year 2019 Commerce, Justice and Science appropriations bill, by a bipartisan voice vote. This marks the first time medical cannabis protections have been added to the appropriations bill in committee, meaning it is highly likely it will go to the full House of Representatives for a vote. If the measure passes, it will extend protections through September 30th, 2019.
The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) characterized the move as “historic,” and the Marijuana Policy Project noted that it’s an indication of growing momentum behind federal cannabis reform. MPP’s Director of Conservative Outreach Don Murphy said in a statement “This is just the latest sign that support for marijuana policy reform is growing in Congress, and we’re seeing that support on both sides of the aisle. Republicans are joining with Democrats to protect compassionate state medical marijuana programs from federal interference.”
Given that numerous polls have shown overwhelming public support for medical cannabis in general, and strong support for protecting states with legal cannabis programs from federal interference, politicians from both parties appear to be falling in line with public opinion. “The strong bipartisan support we’re seeing in Congress mirrors public opinion, as polls show an overwhelming majority of both major parties support legal access to medical marijuana,” Murphy said. He also pointed out the increasing concern among politicians for being perceived as against medical cannabis, “At this point, opponents probably want to avoid being on the record voting against sick patients and states’ rights, which could explain why the committee held a voice vote.”
Unfortunately the amendment doesn’t offer any protections for state-legal recreational cannabis programs, but it still indicates growing support for cannabis in general. Similar amendments aimed at protecting state-legal recreational cannabis programs have failed to make it out of committee, such as an amendment introduced by Representatives Tom McClintock (R-CA), and Jared Polis (D-CO) which died in the House Rules Committee.